Monday, February 27, 2006

Yet another battering for my ego.

This past Saturday I gave the message for the Saturday evening service at Osaka International Church. The Saturday evening service is small and is normally held in the office around the table. The service consisted of about ten people. After the service I went with a few of the attendees for a quick bite to eat. Besides myself there were two other Canadians, and two Japanese, one who had been my interpreter for the service, and the other who spoke English but with a thick Japanese accent. Needless to say the conversation was primarily in English.
The Canadian couple had spent their honeymoon traveling in Scandinavia and Northern Europe. We heard some interesting things about Russia and the state of the country there. Our Japanese companion asked lots of questions, with many a big word. We had difficulty understanding him for two reasons, one was his accent (probably due to much study but little practice) and the second was his use of words that were very big. He first wondered if they had seen anyone using hypodermic needles. (He works in the medical profession and had heard WHO reports of that kind of thing.) After listening to stories about organized Russia Mafia and the way they currently run the country he also asked how the constabulary affected the situation. The police I queried for clarification?
Later he asked about the schism between the protestant and catholic churches. We were at a loss for an answer on that one. He also asked if I had been to a Japanese service and wondered how I found the rubric to be. Rubric I asked? Yes, rubric! rubric! he repeated back to me in exasperation. I feel like I need to go back and study English instead of Japanese.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Message Notes

Gifts Wrapped in Love.
Exodus 4:10-17; 1 Corinthians 12:12 – 13:3

Tonight I am going to talk a bit about the gifts God has given to us. We will look at how we don’t necessarily have the gifts we need, but need to proceed in faith when God asks us to do something. We see that gifts from God come wrapped in love, and that when we use our gifts we need to wrap them in love.

Preface the first Corinthians readings with: We are reading here from Corinthians, a letter Paul wrote to a specific church congregation. Paul, throughout this letter is giving advice to this church, and this advice is relevant to us in our church also.
We will start with reading I Corinthians 12:12-31a.

First of all it is important to understand that God has a sovereign plan. A plan for each one of us here tonight, a plan for each group of believers, a plan for each church and a plan for the entire body of Christian believers that transcends both places and time. God is infinitely loving and infinitely caring and he has an infinitely great plan. As humans we often lose sight of that fact, often, we cannot see a bigger picture. As sinful people we often lack the faith to understand that, God loves us so much.

Secondly, we note that in every body of believers God gives his people gifts. He gives His people a variety of gifts, He does not give some people all gifts, and He gives every one of us at least some gifts.

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to lead a group of teenagers along with a few adult leaders to help with a service project in Jackson city in the state of Mississippi, about 30 people in all.. Many of us were working on cleaning up an abandoned house that had been torn down. One of the biggest jobs left for us was to clean up the foundation. The foundation was made of bricks and cement. The old bricks that were still in good shape were set aside and the bad ones were thrown into a big dumpster.

Two of the guys with us were named Cody and Brock. They are both excellent athletes, smart and strong. Definite go getters. They really enjoyed working on the foundation. They loved to swing the heavy sledge hammers to wreak havoc on those unsuspecting bricks. At times though, they would be swinging away with out making much progress, sometimes the bricks were very stubborn. From time to time I would come by, eye things up and with a deft little tweak in the right place using a pry bar, bring a small pile of bricks showering down. They would look at me and then go back to swinging the sledge. After two or three times they realized that this was not an accident, but that I did actually do something worth while. They saw that there was another approach to taking apart these bricks.

This provides us with a good illustration of how God uses different talents to work together to accomplish something. When we work together as God intends us to, things work better. When we used our different talents, we accomplished more than we would have if either of us had applied only our one skill to the task.

Let’s reread vs 18,19 and 20.
Paul is emphasizing God’s sovereignty. He has given us many different gifts, but we are one body, one team, and God has one perfect plan.

Preface the Exodus reading with: In Exodus 3 Moses meets God in the burning bush, and God is asking Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. In Chapter 4 we read that Moses is nervous about what God is asking him to do. God gives him three powerful signs of proof that it really is Him in the burning bush. Now we start reading at vs 10. (Exodus 4:10-17)

In light of our exploration of gifts so far, when we read about Moses and Aaron here in the bible, we find some interesting things. It seems as if Moses, the great leader of the Israelites, is being very childish before God. He keeps arguing with God, saying things like “Who am I?” (in Chapter 3) and “What if they won’t believe me?” (in the beginning of Chapter 4). These are basic questions that many of us ask of God. We all have the tendency to want to shy away from doing difficult things, and God often asks us to do things that seem too big for us to handle. After God has addressed those things Moses also says that he doesn’t have the gifts to do what God is asking of him. “I am slow of speech and tongue” says Moses.
God is asking Moses to do something that Moses does not think he is capable of, something that is bigger than Moses. But God responds to Moses telling him that He will be faithful to Moses. When God asks us to do something he will provide the gifts (in some way or another) to accomplish his sovereign plan. Let us reread vs 12
I think it is also worth noting that sometimes it pleases God to use some of us and our lack of gifts that his Grace might appear even more glorious.
I remember about ten years ago, I was working at a company. A coworker who knew I was a Christian came to me and asked me, “What is the goal of Christianity?” This was wonderful! I thought, here is someone who wants to know about God, and about Christianity. I could have given her lots of my biblical knowledge and answers to plenty of important questions. I wanted to explain everything to her, but at that moment I had no idea what to say. I had always trusted that God would give me words to say at a time like this. I was completely at a loss for an answer. I finally stammered “To get to heaven” as an answer. Many times after that I worried about that answer, but I came to understand, this was the answer that I had to provide to that person and in a very broken way. I like to think God used my lack of gift in that situation for his greater glory.
Still Moses rebels and asks God if he could send someone else. In the end God brings Aaron into the picture, someone who God had blessed with the ability to speak well. Together they are used as instruments of God to accomplish a part of God’s sovereign plan, to effectively lead the nation of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and to the land that God promised to them.

Read Corinthians 12:31b – 13:13

This reading is the follow-up to the section on gifts that we read earlier. Gifts need to be wrapped in love, in a similar fashion to the way the law is wrapped in love. Galatians 5:14 says “The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Love is the fulfilling of the law.
So we see here the necessity for wrapping our gifts in love when we use them in conjunction *with and for* the other people in our community. It is not optional it is necessary. But these gifts are also given to us by God, wrapped in love. He lovingly gives us good gifts, gifts that we can and will enjoy using. And we respond to God with love by glorifying Him when we put our gifts to use. Glorifying God is central to our response to God for his love to us. We also need to wrap our gifts in our love for God.
I recall when I was boy; I used to make cards sometimes for people in my family. Like any kid I was not a master artist. I wasn’t the best in my age group, and I wasn’t even the best in my class. When I coloured in a colouring book I even had a hard time staying in the lines. But when I made a card for my mom, there was a lot of love built into the card. I would work hard on it and proudly present it to my mother for her birthday. And in return she would be very happy with that card. It wasn’t that the card itself was so great as to bring a tear to your eye, but it was that the card was wrapped in love that my mother enjoyed so much. It was my response of love to the love she gave to me.

God will call us to something, to use our gifts to do something. We need to be willing; we need to take steps of faith at times. God will not be ignored when he calls us to do something. We see in the story about Moses a great example of that. Often His grace and mercy are enough to cover up our sin and our unwillingness. We are diverse in our gifting, and we need to work together with our various gifts. We glorify God with the use of our gifts. And we especially glorify God when we lovingly use our gifts, when we wrap our gifts in love.

Saturday, February 11, 2006


Yesterday late afternoon as the light was beginning to wane, we dropped by a quaint, a charming little coffee shop called Pumpkin. It is nestled amongst sprawling courthouses and massive city halls. The shop is closed on Saturdays and Sundays because the area becomes a ghost town. We met the owner a few weeks ago, and were invited to come for a visit. We took the opportunity to share a coffee and some conversation.

A while ago when we were in Tokyo visiting with many an old friend (of Aukje's) many were worried about my language study in Osaka. They wanted to be sure that I was learning proper Japanese and not Osaka-ben (the local dialect of Japanese). I assured them that at the YMCA where I am learning Japanese, the lessons are very pure Japanese. I always seemed to be able to sense a sigh of relief when they learned this fact.

Yesterday, Masumi, the owner of Pumpkin gave me a little book, A Guide to the Osaka Dialect. I have already picked up a word or two from the locals, but thus starts my Osaka-ben education for real, now I have something tangible in my hands to taint my pure Japanese language. I better keep this dirty little secret under wraps, at least from our acquaintances in Tokyo.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Black Humour

I was talking with my Korean classmate about batteries. He found it very morbid that we Canadians would talk about batteries having died and being dead. After he got over the shock of it, he thought it funny. After sharing it with our other Korean classmate we all thought it was even more funny.